A ray of hope for District 209
by John Rice, Forest Park Review columnist
Jenny Barbahen, a lifelong Forest Parker, described our village as a “fight or flight” community. Due to concerns about their children getting a quality education, many families move out of Forest Park when their children reach high school age. To stay in town, families can send their kids to private schools. This is expensive and only benefits their own kids. Jenny is fighting for all the district’s students, staff and teachers by running for the District 209 Board of Education.
She is not alone in this effort but part of a slate of candidates, known as Proviso 209 United. This is a diverse slate that includes Westchester residents Sandra Joseph-Hixson and David Ocampo. Their initials lend themselves to a slogan: “HBO Let’s Go.”
Hixson graduated from Proviso East High School and has been a substitute teacher at Proviso West. She has also served on the District 88 Bellwood School Board. Ocampo is a data engineer, who is expert at analyzing logistics and financial data. Barbahen works full-time for the Jenner & Block Law Firm and has four children. Her oldest, Donovan, is a senior at Proviso East.
Jenny knows firsthand how not having a quality high school tears apart Forest Park. She recalls how her eighth-grade graduation from Forest Park Middle School was devastating.
“We were all crying because we wouldn’t be seeing each other in high school,” she recalled. She sees losing childhood friends as detrimental to a child’s mental health. Jenny was fortunate to have one of her childhood friends attend Trinity High School with her.
Her younger sister had more options and was in the first class to attend Proviso Math and Science Academy. Jenny has never lost her desire to improve Forest Park schools and our under-performing high school. She is on the PTO for District 91 and a member of the Proviso East Parent Advisory Council. She was a Scoutmaster for Boy Scout Troop 107.
Jenny was a volunteer for the Proviso Together party, helping Claudia Medina and Ned Wagner win election to the 209 Board in 2015. Proviso Together formed a majority on the board and made great progress in changing the dysfunctional culture at District 209. However, infighting among Proviso Together members caused it to disband in April 2022.
Meanwhile, Jenny and other concerned parents watched the D209 board disintegrate into a “sad circus.” She watched as Superintendent James Henderson made controversial decisions. The district suffered from a lack of accountability and transparency. The final straw was when Board President Rodney Alexander decided not to record and live-stream the Oct. 12, 2021 board meeting.
In response, Jenny and Westchester parent Kathleen Franzwa co-founded the Proviso 209 Cooperative Facebook group. The group grew and grew as the district’s problems increased. The “toxic work environment” triggered the longest teacher’s strike in Proviso’s history. Jenny saw “mass resignations” of teachers. Students didn’t have the resources to succeed.
“There were no goggles in science class,” she said. “Spending on instruction was at an all-time low.”
There is no need to dwell on Proviso’s woes. They have been well-documented.
“Schools are the most important element of a community,” says Jenny. She believes Proviso has many good students. But they need the “safety, stability and structure to succeed.” Jenny and her slate hope to restore the district’s “positive trajectory” that it had when Proviso Together first held a majority on the board.
Proviso 209 United will also hold a majority if elected because board member Amanda Grant has promised to support them. Jenny and her slate have different skillsets but share the same goals.
“I can’t wait for April 4th,” she said.
Let’s hope Forest Park voters are just as eager to support them.
Open Letter to Proviso Community
by Proviso Teachers' Union Executive Board
Published March 8, 2023
Why Proviso 209 United team supports Hixson, Barbahen, Ocampo
We, the team behind Sandra Hixson, Jenny Barbahen and David Ocampo known as Proviso 209 United, would like to share why we are so incredibly passionate about electing these three parents and subject matter experts to the school board. Elections are a referendum on the incumbents and the following events of the last few years make it incredibly clear that we need reform, yes, again.
This current board unanimously voted to hire the superintendent in August of 2020. At that time, [Dr. James Henderson] sold to the board, and our Proviso community including many of us, a vision of greatness for our schools. It became clear almost two years ago on February 23, 2021, during a surprise Saturday morning board meeting that Henderson had a very different vision of what makes a great school district. This vision consisted of ending partnerships with PAEC (special education), outsourcing IT, and other radical cuts in the name of turning a profit with austerity budgeting rather than educating our children. As we emailed, called, and pleaded with our trusted board members for clarity, we saw them support the measures dismantling much of the recent progress made. This was heartbreaking to say the least. We felt defeated. We felt hopeless.
Not anymore. Proviso 209 United was formed to restore that hope. Restore our schools. Put our students first. Bring back the values that got the district heading in the right direction, connection with the community, connection with teachers and staff, fiscal accountability, and transparency. When we do what is right for a united Proviso, we will usher in an era of success for ALL Proviso students.
After months of searching and careful vetting, in August 2022 we chose and announced our slate of three candidates: Sandra Joseph-Hixson, Jenny Barbahen and David Ocampo. These three candidates together represent the brightest and best future for the students in our district. It’s that simple.
It is imperative to not just gain a favorable board balance but to also restore decorum and professionalism to the governing body of the school district. Hixson, Barbahen and Ocampo will be deliberate and methodical as they work to restore transparency and order to the board, thoroughly evaluating the district from top to bottom in a careful review process.
While these are only three seats on a seven-person board, [current school board member] Amanda Grant has officially endorsed our team, and together we will have the ability to effect change from day one. Even though the board has lost its way over the last 2.5 years, we see a bright future for Proviso and District 209.
Why we need to support Proviso 209 United
by Rafael Rosa, Forest Park Parent of D209 Alumni
Folks following the challenges of our local high schools know that we have an administration and board majority that has done incredible harm. Well respected teachers and administrators have been fired, entire operational areas have been outsourced without a solid plan and the nepotism that looked to be fading has slowly crept back.
Watching this, I understand if you feel hopeless. Until 2015 I felt the same way. That year community members from across Proviso took control of the board away from those only concerned with their own gain. For a few years it looked like we may have finally turned a corner. But we got complacent and again lost control. We have a choice — go back to hiding our heads in the sand or fight. 2015 showed that, against all odds, change is possible.
This year another group of folks are willing to try to make that change happen. Sandra Joseph-Hixson, Jenny Barbahen and David Ocampo, the Proviso 209 United slate (HBO) are those people. In addition to community members like us from across Proviso, they are supported by the teachers of District 209 who are risking their jobs by officially endorsing HBO to support what is best for their students.
There are other candidates led by Teresa Kelly running against them. You haven’t heard much from them in Forest Park because they don’t need us. We are split. A third slate is running with just two Forest Park candidates — Proviso Excels. They also care about our students and Claudia Medina has been fighting the status quo in 209 for eight years. They are good people but because they are running our vote is split and Kelly’s slate has a strong chance of winning. Even if, through some mathematical miracle, Jon Kubricht and Claudia win, they are only two people, not enough to change the board majority. This will leave us with two more years of the dysfunction we have. Our students and teachers deserve better. For that reason, I support HBO and change NOW. United we can make that happen.